Young endurance runner is racking up age-group titles as he goes from strength to strength

James Dargan has been on the radar for a few years now. When Covid hit, he had just earned his first international vest and was riding high. The lockdowns halted that progress but he has fought back with determination and in April won the TCS Mini London Marathon to add to the 3000m title he won at last years English Schools Championships. After receiving his medal from 1500m world champion Jake Wightman, he is now inspired to continue grafting and chase that Olympic dream.

The 17-year-olds PBs are 3:44.47 for 1500m, 8:04.53 for 3000m and 14:03.10 for 5000m.

When did you first realise you wanted to pursue running?

It was after arguably one of the biggest wins of my career my local cross-country league. I won it on a technicality because my main opponent was racing at the nationals which I hadnt qualified for. This may sound irrelevant as a win but in terms of where it all started and what it meant to me (and my mum), it really kickstarted my love for running.

Was there ever another sport for you?

I started out playing football. That got me into running going out with Mum to get my fitness up. I also swam a lot and it really helped with fitness and to appreciate the dedication it takes to improve and achieve in sport. Those early morning swimming sessions were no joke!

Middle or long distance running? Do you have a preference?

My cardio fitness has always been one of my strengths. I cant say the same for my acceleration, which is notoriously non-existent! Im progressing towards 5000m, as I feel thats best for me when balancing my cardio with my ability to wind up races to fast closing laps. I ran my debut 5000m on the track recently with a 14:03 which was almost a British under-17 record so thats where Im looking to specialise.

Whats the ultimate dream?

If the Olympics isnt the dream of every athlete my age Id love to know what is! But its a big world and Ive currently run very little of it. The next step is bigger international competitions and hopefully the US for university. 

James Dargan (Zach Bridgeland)

How have you managed balancing school, training and having a social life?

Being totally honest, I havent managed it anywhere near well enough. My transition to sixth form, alongside a massively increased focus on athletics, has changed a lot in my life. Its been tough mentally and physically, but I know if I want to achieve my goals, Ive got a lot to do.

How did it feel to win the 3000m at the English Schools last summer?

That was a big moment for me. Id never really run in a big track championship race, so to go in as the favourite and come out with a win was incredible. It also meant I qualified for England Schools in Belfast, where I met other athletes on the team who have become some of my closest friends. Im hoping to replicate that run and defend my title in the senior field.

Weve seen you take top spot at the under-17 race at the Mini Marathon. 

Its one of my favourite events. I first qualified in 2022 but didnt know the course and kicked too early so went from first to finishing fifth. It was satisfying to come back in a stacked field and take the win, which is one of the biggest of my career because of who was there and especially in front of the world champion Jake Wightman.

James Dargan and Jake Wightman (LM Events)

How inspiring was it being handed your medal by Jake? 

I met Jake the night before and promised him I would win in return for him signing my forehead, so that was an amusing reunion on the podium! He was such a nice guy and its inspiring to meet someone whos come through the British cross-country circuit, running the same courses I am now and gone on to become world champion.

You now join an illustrious list of Mini Marathon winners which includes Mo Farah. How good does that sound?

Im honoured to be on the list with such a strong history of British athletes. Now the next steps for me are to beat their times on the track, which Ive already begun trying to do. Ive beaten Mos 5km time as an U17, so thats given me the motivation to chase more times and records, hopefully alongside qualifications and a first GB vest for the European Under-20 Champs in August.

Do you have another career highlight so far?

Coming fourth at the English Schools Cross Country Championships in 2020. Id recently been welcomed into the Mick Woods army of AFD so was hoping for a strong performance a top 30 finish. I had the race of my life, coming from nowhere to somehow running alongside the biggest talents of my age group, lads that had beaten me for years and who I had been working hard to try to get up to. That was the realisation for me that I may actually have a future in this whole running thing, so to get my first England vest from that was huge motivation.

James Dargan

What has been the hardest thing youve had to overcome?

Covid. I went into it with such high spirits after my success at English Schools, but to be confined in lockdown was extremely tough. My training went downhill as I lost motivation but, as the lockdowns began easing, I got back into some sessions and runs with my friend Dan whod also got an England vest in Liverpool. Without him I doubt I would have come out of lockdown in anywhere near the form I was in. On reflection, Im grateful for the chance Covid offered to reassess my situation and rediscover my love for the sport that I had begun to lose as one Covid run melted into another.

What would James now say to James who was just starting out?

The main thing is to not take it too seriously. Covid helped me realise my love for the sport didnt come from success or the hard work but from the people around me. If we all work for each other and have a laugh while doing it, nothing can really go wrong.  

This article first appeared in the May issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here